Millennials and post-millennials play a key role in solving the cybersecurity skills shortage now and in the future, according to a new survey.

New data by Protectwise shows that younger generations understand and acknowledge that technology and computing are likely to play a significant role in their future careers.

  • 68 percent of respondents would classify themselves as either a technology innovator (27 percent) or early adopters of technology (41 percent)
  • Gaming has contributed to an appetite for technology-oriented careers. Forty percent of all surveyed have been gamers for more than 10 years

According to the study, "This group not only loves their devices, but technology also influences their schooling choices, guides their anticipated studies at university and affects the types of careers they are considering."

  • 48 percent had been part of a STEM program during their K-12 education
  • As a group, 82 percent of high school-age respondents planned to enroll in college after the completion of high school
  • Computer Science and Technology (e.g., computer engineering) was the college major most cited by the survey populace as their intended (or actual) field of study – 23 percent. This is followed by:
    • Science and Mathematics (e.g., biology, chemistry, environmental studies, statistics, pure mathematics, physics) – 18 percent planned to focus on this major
    • Engineering (e.g., biotechnology, computer engineering, aerospace engineering) – 15 percent
  • A vast majority of respondents suggested that they are interested in computer-related careers, including: Video game development (33 percent); computer sciences/software development (21 percent); engineering (15 percent); scientific research (13 percent); information technology (11 percent) and cybersecurity (9 percent)< >If we add in graphic design by assuming the Computer Aided Design element, 14 of the 16 fields respondents were interested in someday working are generally considered technology careers Perspectives

    Interestingly, the results suggest that not only are millennials and post-millennials the key to solving the current and pending talent shortage, but young females show tendencies that make them well suited to become part of the solution.

However, said the study, millennials and post-millennials participating in the study clearly indicated some of the challenges the cybersecurity field must overcome if it wishes to funnel some of this technology and computing-savvy population into cybersecurity careers. The first steps of this process would seem to be simply making millennials aware of the field as a profession.

  • Most in the younger generations don’t know any cybersecurity professionals: Only 17 percent said that someone in their family has ever worked in the cybersecurity field
    • Of those surveyed, just four males described their current job as being in the field of cybersecurity
  • They haven’t had the opportunity to learn about cybersecurity: A vast majority of respondents (69 percent) had never taken a class in school that focused on cybersecurity
    • This is primarily because they never had a choice: 65 percent said that their school(s) never offered courses

A necessary second step would be to increase the cybersecurity learning opportunities available to millennials and post-millennials. This lack of awareness and opportunity shortage is directly feeding the pending and future skills shortage. As a result, only nine percent of respondents initially indicated that cybersecurity is a career they are interested in pursuing at some point in their lives. Again, the lack of previous opportunity would seem to be heavily influencing perceptions. When respondents were asked why cybersecurity was not a career they were considering, ignorance of and lack of opportunity to learn bubble to the top of their responses:

  • “Don't know enough about this field/career path” was the reason most often selected by those that were not interested – 37 percent
  • Don't believe I have the technical ability/knowledge/aptitude – 28 percent
  • Level of education required – 21 percent
  • Number of certifications required – 15 percent

The latter three concerns expressed by millennials and post-millennials would seemingly be addressed by providing earlier exposure to information security learning opportunities, with the first concern also benefiting from this approach. The vast majority are not rejecting future careers in cybersecurity outright — in fact, less than a third flat-out proclaimed they were not interested in cybersecurity as a career.

According to the study, there are "Indications that female millennials may present the industry’s best chance to effectively overcome the security skills shortage. The first obstacle is a familiar one: the biased perception of female aptitude or “appropriateness” for certain career choices."

Survey responses show that:

  • Two times as many males than females are planning to study engineering at college
  • Twice as many men plan to study computer science
  • Males are twice as likely to plan to study Science and Mathematics than female survey respondents
  • Twice the amount of men interviewed as part of our survey are considering IT as a field than women survey respondents
  • Females surveyed have proven they are not technology averse, reporting they game online as frequently as male counterparts, as an example
  • In fact, more males than females consider themselves late adopters of technology. Male and female early adopters are statistically similar
  • Female respondents actually showed quicker and higher rates of adoption of some of the latest technologies (virtual reality is an example, with females more likely than males to have tried VR more than 7 months ago) –  52 percent (F) vs. 42 percent (M)
    • More women than men indicate that they have advanced technology (like VR) in their household
    • Women have also indicated that they have spent more time using and would be willing to spend more time using these technologies

According to the study, "This tech adoption and familiarity would also seem to indicate a growing interest in tech-related courses for study and career options."

  • 10 percent more women respondents than men plan to enroll in College straight out of high school
  • Women are only slightly less likely to consider information technology professions as a most desirable career compared to men

"Based on responses provided by the people surveyed, the cybersecurity industry must take a proactive stance in creating awareness and providing early learning opportunities," said the report. "Companies can choose to support after-school cybersecurity clubs or help to develop and implement actual cybersecurity curriculum for high school – there are multitude of ways to help develop tomorrow’s security pro."